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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471

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Until the late nineteenth century, many Western societies considered it scandalous for women to write for publication. This attitude was more widespread in England and Europe than in America, but it prevailed almost everywhere. Three obstacles confronted women writers: getting their work published, having their published work taken seriously, and suffering reproach from family or society for being writers. For these reasons many women have published anonymously or under pen names. While some women have used female pseudonyms, or such anonymous sobriquets as “A Lady,” those who have gone beyond personal narratives or domestic dramas to write about social and political issues have typically assumed male pseudonyms.

Among the best known of such writers is Mary Anne Evans, an English editor and novelist. Writing as “George Eliot,” she produced several notable works of fiction, including Adam Bede (1859), Silas Marner (1861), and Middlemarch (1871-1872). Eliot also served as the actual, though not official, editor of the Westminster Review for three years, and she published numerous essays. In France, Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant wrote as “George Sand” during the same era; she created more than a hundred works, including highly regarded novels, plays, and collections of graceful essays and letters. A somewhat later example is the South African writer Olive Schreiner. Using the pseudonym “Ralph Iron,” she wrote despite her husband’s opposition. She is especially noted for The Story of an African Farm (1883), containing a challenge to accepted moral rules, and as an early opponent of apartheid. In America, Louisa May Alcott published Little Women (1868) and its sequels under her own name; later she was discovered to have also written lurid adventure stories as “A. S. Barnard.”

As prejudice against women writers lessened in the twentieth century, the number using male pseudonyms decreased. On certain subjects and within some genres, however, it remained difficult for a woman writer to be respected. For example, in the 1950’s Marijane Meaker wrote crime novels and lesbian romances under the name “Vin Packer.” Science fiction in particular remained a male preserve for many years. Some women writers gained acceptance in this field with given names that are used by both sexes (for example, Marion Zimmer Bradley) or by adopting such a name (for example, Andre Norton). In the late 1970’s, the well-regarded science fiction writer “James Tiptree” was revealed to be a woman named Alice Sheldon. Sheldon’s unmasking at the height of the women’s movement embarrassed critics who had praised Tiptree for “his” strong masculine voice.

By the 1980’s and 1990’s, the most common form of censorship by gender was probably self-censorship. A number of women writers still used pseudonyms—though not always male names—to conceal their writings on sexual or controversial topics from their families, employers, or friends. Curiously, the tables turned slightly as male writers used female pseudonyms to give their romance novels credibility.